A non-swing photo of Ricky Castillo speaks for itself. He's cool under pressure
(Chris Keane, USGA photo)
John Pak was the undefeated hero of the last Walker Cup, won by USA at Royal Liverpool in 2019.
And with Pak one of the sicker players with the virus dropping his first ever Walker Cup point, it's Florida Gators star Ricky Castillo, and return Walker Cup player Cole Hammer stepping up and having the chance to do the same.
Castillo, the winner of the 2020 Phil Mickelson award as freshman player of the year, was the biggest USA winner in afternoon singles, defeating Ben Schmidt of GB&I 5-and-3.
It wasn't that his opponent played poorly, but rather that Castillo did what most players haven't been able to do at the beguiling Seminole Golf Club -- put up a lot of red numbers. Looking stylish in red, white, and blue shoes that about half of the players went with in the afternoon, Castillo (of Yorba Linda, California) set the tone for USA as his fellow Californian William Mouw of Pepperdine also won big, 4-and-3 over Ben Jones.
Mouw, coming off a morning foursomes loss as Stewart Hagestad's partner, wasn't expecting to see action this afternoon in singles, but when 2020 U.S. Amateur champion Tyler Strafaci's still feeling week with the stomach virus, he was called back in at the last minute. And boy did he step up.
Cole Hammer could have joined the California kids as a big winner, after going 5-up through nine holes against John Murphy, but Murphy had other ideas, getting the match back to 2-down through 15 holes with a chance to take that down to only one when Hammer went bunker to bunker at No. 16.
But Hammer's second bunker shot (and his first one wasn't bad, he just got "Seminoled") almost went in for par, meaning Murphy had to hole a slick 7 footer for par to win the hole. When that slid by, Hammer would close out the match on the devilish par-3 17th with a deft hill-bump chip. (How hard is 17? No GB&I player hit the green in the afternoon.)
"I made it harder on myself than I had to," said Hammer, noting how hot he got on the front nine before settling down and letting Murphy back in. "But golf is hard."
Also picking up wins were Austin Eckroat (1-up over a tough fighting Angus Flanagan of Republic of Ireland and Team GB&I) as well as probably the biggest win of the day, Pierceson Coody in a 2-up victory over GB&I's top player, Alex Fitzpatrick.
This match is far from over, but with the GB&I needing 13.5 points to take home the cup, it's going to be crucial that they pick up a few points in the morning foursomes on Sunday. You can catch it all, commercial free thanks to Rolex, on Peacock TV and The Golf Channel.
'MORNING FOURSOMES SUMMARY
On paper, the 48th Walker Cup is supposed to be a blowout.
But the match play tenacity of the team from Great Britain and Ireland -- especially in the foursomes format they love so much -- belies what the world rankings say about which team is the favorite.
After falling trailing in all four matches with just over an hour to play, the GB&I managed to take home two points, keeping things all square with eight afternoon singles matches starting at 2:30 pm EDT.
Leading things off for the GB&I will be, appropriately, their only player with past Walker Cup experience -- Alex Fitzpatrick. The brother of European Tour player (and 2013 U.S. Amateur champ) Matthew Fitzpatrick hit the first tee shot of the 48th Walker Cup at 8:20 this morning. He followed that with a 30 foot uphill birdie putt on the first hole, which he followed with a quick fist bump with partner Barclay Brown.
Although that hole was tied when Davis Thompson of Team USA converted on Cole Hammer's approach shot to 6 feet, the tone had been set, Fitzpatrick and Brown lost four-straight holes to start the back nine -- only one of them to birdie -- but refused to give in despite falling 3-down. Both teams faced every imaginable bunker shot, as Seminole's small and reclusive greens sent anything but perfectly struck approach shots to a sandy finish. (And after following this match all 18 holes let me say the bunker play I witnessed was nothing short of spectacular.)
The par-3 17th proved to the pivotal hole in this nail-biter. After squaring things up with three wins of their own, Fitzpatrick had a must-make 7-foot par save after Brown's bunker shot, and as he paced confidently towards the hole could only watch in amazement as the ball struck the back of the cup, and power-lipped straight back at him.
GB&I had 10-feet for birdie, and hopes of a tie, with Thompson's approach well outside at 30-feet and pin high. It was Hammer's turn to fist pump, as he drained a 30-foot right to left putt that sealed the match. This was gritty golf by both sides.
USA lost the next match, as Mark Power and John Murphy (two of the three players from Republic of Ireland) defeated the Oklahoma star duo of Quade Cummins and Austin Eckroat, in a match that also came down to No. 18.
Then it was McClure Meissner's turn to shine. The USA first-alternate -- called up after as many as eight players on his team suffered from symptoms of a non-Covid virus -- was ready to putt for victory after his partner Ricky Castillo stuffed his approach. But the putt, and match, was given by GB&I after they failed to get up and down from a nearly impossible short-sided bunker.
Angus Flanagan and Jake Bolton (GB&I's first reserve) took down Mid-Am 3-time Walker Cup veteran Stewart Hagestad and William Mouw of Pepperdine, as their match also went to the last hole.
The GB&I side (with a 1-up lead) went well right off the 18th tee, all the way onto the driving range. But with a clear shot to the green, Jake Bolton struck the best shot of the morning matches, to inside of 10-feet and won the match when Hagestad's birdie putt came up just inches short.
This afternoon, the rosters on both sides will change up as captains attempt to provide as many players as possible with rest. Nathaniel Crosby put it this way:
"It's been bizarre," he said about the illness that has plagued both sides. "“I think it’s 8 to 7 -- we have a 1-up lead on who got more sick this week.”
Afternoon Singles Pairings at Seminole Golf Club (all times EDT)
2:30 p.m. – Alex Fitzpatrick, GB&I vs. Pierceson Coody, USA
2:41 p.m. – Mark Power, GB&I vs. Davis Thompson, USA
2:52 p.m. – Ben Schmidt, GB&I vs. Ricky Castillo, USA
3:03 p.m. – Ben Jones, GB&I vs. Tyler Strafaci, USA
3:14 p.m. – Matty Lamb (late sub), GB&I vs. Quade Cummins, USA
3:25 p.m. – Angus Flanagan, GB&I vs. Austin Eckroat, USA
3:36 p.m. – Barclay Brown, GB&I vs. John Pak, USA
3:47 p.m. – John Murphy, GB&I vs. Cole Hammer, USAView results for The Walker Cup